Transitioning to a vegan diet is one of the most beneficial things you’ll ever do for yourself, the animals and the entire planet, but is a book of seven seals for most people. I understand it can be intimidating transitioning to a vegan diet after being an omnivore your entire life – speaking from personal experience. I grew up in East Germany, where regular meals included meat, eggs or dairy at most meals. Only think of the typical German “Brotzeit”: A meal that includes bread, butter, sausages, cheese and eggs. Yes, I know. Sad, but true.
As I progressed into my twenties, the idea behind plant-based eating suddenly began to make sense to me. I had played with the thought of going vegetarian for a time. But growing up in a family of meat eaters and with a slight addiction to cheese and other dairy products, I had dismissed those thoughts again and again. I was a gym rat and could not imagine that a vegan diet would provide me with enough protein.
It must have been the excessive overindulgence during the christmas holiday´s, combined with increasing health problems, that made me undertake an experiment: One month on a plant-based diet.
During that time I learned the most (and least) effective ways to transition to a vegan diet, and I found just how awesome it was on the other side where the grass really is greener in this case! And obviously I did not stop after four weeks. It has been a three year journey so far and I am still learning something new almost every day. Veganism became a lifestyle, not only a diet.
I am sure you think it is going to be the hardest thing to transition from omnivore to herbivore. Don´t worry! I will show you that it is way easier than you expect it to be!
What I’ve written below is what has worked for me, so take this with a grain of salt – everyone’s experience will be different. It is worth repeating that I’m not a nutrition or health professional and my opinions and experiences should not be substituted for medical advice. Always consult your doc before making any diet/lifestyle changes.
So, how do you get started?
1. Educate Yourself
Before you can approach a vegan diet with full confidence and the best chances for success, it’s a great idea to educate yourself on why you’re considering a vegan diet. Learn the benefits behind the lifestyle and how others out there have done it too. Watch movies that show the benefits of a plant-based diet and the reality of what eating animals actually entails. I recommend checking out Forks Over Knives for an eye-opening documentary. Other great movies include Food Inc., Vegucated, Hungry for a Change, and Earthlings to start with.
Along the same lines, it’s good to research the nutritional aspects of a vegan diet. There are many books out there now with this information to help guide you. A balanced, well-planned vegan diet will successfully meet the nutrient requirements of almost anyone at any age. There are many misconceptions about plant-based diets but the truth is, a healthy diet full of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts & seeds, complex carbohydrates, and a reliable B12 supplement are all a vegan needs to satisfy their nutritional requirements.
2. Take it One Day at a Time
Yes, it’s a cliché, but small changes really add up over time! When you’re learning to transition to a vegan diet, remember not to overwhelm yourself. I have slipped up on my vegan diet just like many of you have. My advice is to focus on all the amazing choices you’ve made to date instead of that time when you slipped up. No matter what kind of diet you eat, every time you chose plants over animals you are making a difference. Just take it day by day and even better, meal by meal. There’s no need to be stressed or intimidated by going vegan. For me, this journey has been easier and easier as the time flies by. The cravings I once had pretty much disappeared. Instead of craving the old foods, I now crave the new foods that I eat. It’s amazing how the taste buds can adapt when you give them a chance.
3. Find Motivation
There is a huge difference between adopting a vegan lifestyle and “going on a diet”. When you know exactly why you want to be vegan you will have far less difficulties to stick to it. This is why it is so important to learn about the benefits of a vegan lifestyle and the effect animal products have on our health, the animals and the environment.
4. Crowd Out, Don’t Cut Out
I always say focus on what you are adding to your diet, such as new foods, recipes, or cooking methods, rather than what you are taking away. If I were to tell you to go to the store and not buy meat, eggs, and dairy, you’d likely just feel defeated and deprived. But if I were to tell you what to buy instead such as quinoa, kale, spinach, sweet potatoes, bananas, tomatoes, mushrooms, flax, coconut milk, almonds, and berries, you’d have a much better idea of what to shop for. When you approach a vegan diet, it’s best to crowd out animal products with tons of delicious, filling plant-based foods. Choose nondairy milk, fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes to start and try to avoid vegan replacement meats if you can.
5. Find Recipes for Inspiration
I grew up thinking that if there wasn’t meat at a meal, it wasn’t to be considered a meal. Little did I know just how incredibly tasty and creative vegan food could be! I started looking up vegan recipes on the web and quickly found inspiration and ideas for ingredients. Especially Instagram and Pinterest were a great source of inspiration.
It really all starts with trying just one recipe! My advice is to try a new recipe every week or every few days and pick some quick and easy recipes to begin with so you don’t feel overwhelmed, such as the Green Power Smoothie, my Carrot Cake Oatmeal or the spicy Happy Cow Chili. Trying a vegan version of your favorite meal is also a great way to get started.
6. Go Shopping
A well-stocked pantry is one of the keys to success, especially in the beginning. It is time to buy all the vegan food you can get your hands on! It’s best to stock up on as much produce as possible and purchase healthy grains like quinoa, wild rice, and oats. These make wonderful bases for breakfast dishes or for a filling lunch and dinner. Then consider buying some unsweetened almond milk in place of dairy milk along with some hemp, chia, walnuts, or flax seeds for healthy fats. Legumes like lentils, green peas, chickpeas, and any types of beans you want to try are also great staples to round out your meals as well.
Try to stay away from foods with too much added sugar for optimal blood sugar levels (and overall health). Have fun at the store but remember to read ingredient labels and embrace simple foods as much as possible. Lastly, don’t forget the herbs, spices, and condiments like stevia, tamari, mustard, tahini, and balsamic, or apple cider vinegar. They’ll be key to making your meals taste flavorful, zesty, and decadent!
When I first made the transition I stocked my fridge with mock meat and vegan dairy products. The truth is, I had no idea how to eat a fulfilling, and healthy diet without these substitution foods. I wasn’t wrong for eating them and it made transition easier, but I didn’t feel great eating these products, or better, I didn’t feel as great as I did without them. Eventually, I discovered how to thrive on a vegan diet without relying on them.
7. Focus on the Basics
Remember that eating a vegan diet doesn’t have to be hard. Just start with the basics when it comes to your first meals. As an example, for breakfast you could have oatmeal with some almond milk, cinnamon, and chopped fruit or coconut yogurt or a toast with avocado and tomato. For lunch, I suggest preparing meals ahead. You keep them in the fridge to grab and go. Soups and salads are perfect for long school or work days. Great snack ideas include nuts and fresh fruits and vegetables. Dinner could be a pan of roasted root veggies with seasonings, alongside a batch of rice or quinoa. Remember that sometimes the basic ingredients end up tasting the best!
8. Eat Whole Foods Most of the Time
It’s easy to go vegan and buy processed vegan foods, but that’s not the best way to approach a healthy vegan diet. Instead of buying processed foods, choose whole foods as much as possible and keep your diet balanced by consuming a variety of vegan foods! This will ensure you get the highest amount of nutrition and that you’re more satisfied at your meals.
9. Get Support
Find friends who want to take this journey with you. I didn’t know any vegans until I met many friends online through reading other blogs and going to meet ups. It’s important to have a support system. Join clubs, recipe groups, meet ups, and attend conferences.
10. Pack Food
When I leave the house for long periods of time, I always pack snacks or meals with me. Whether it’s an afternoon out or a few days on the road, I plan ahead and bring food. You can always find a couple energy bars in the bottom of my backpack. Most days I don’t need them, but I feel great knowing I have a healthy snack on me in case the hunger monster strikes.
Going out to eat couldn’t be easier these days. With more and more people going vegan, most restaurants now offer great-tasting, healthy vegan selections. For more comprehensive listings of vegetarian restaurants worldwide, check out these dining guides: Happy Cow, Veg Dining, and VegGuide.
11. Be Prepared
From awkward social situations to unfamiliar ingredients to concerns about protein, iron, and vitamin B12, unexpected pitfalls are responsible for more than their share of “I tried to go vegan for a little while but it didn’t work out.” The thing is, none of this has to be hard. I believe that going vegan and thriving in this lifestyle can be just as easy for most people as it has been for me. But it’s a matter of being intentional! Planning your transitioning gradually will most likely be more successful than just diving in because you’re excited and can’t wait. Sure, that approach might work for a few, like it did for me, but I’ve just seen too many people fail that way to believe it’s best way to change anything.
Should you use supplements?
Eating a balanced and healthy diet including a wide variety of foods, and eating enough calories to support energy requirements should ensure sufficient intake of protein, calcium, and iron. It’s very important to include a reliable source of vitamin B12 in your diet, this can easily be attained by consuming an appropriate mix of fortified foods, vitamin B12, vitamin D2, and kelp supplements, or by taking a good vegan daily multivitamin.